Federal Court Orders Texas Prison Chief to Remain Defendant in Transgender Woman’s Abuse Case

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March 14, 2016
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Passion Star, self portrait

Today, a U.S. District Court rejected an attempt to remove Brad Livingston, executive director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ), as a defendant in Zollicoffer v. Livingston, Lambda Legal’s federal lawsuit on behalf of Passion Star (legal name: Zollicoffer), a transgender woman currently in TDCJ custody.

The Court instead deferred a decision on Livingston’s motion to dismiss, and ordered limited discovery into Livingston’s knowledge and actions with respect to the policies which led to Passion’s abuse.

The Court recognized that Livingston has a responsibility under federal law to establish reasonable policies and procedures or train and supervise TDCJ staff to prevent sexual abuse. It also highlighted the heightened risk that LGBT prisoners face in custody.

Judge Alfred H. Bennett wrote in the order released today:

Plaintiff was sentenced to serve time in prison. She was not sentenced to be raped and assaulted by her fellow inmates.

It is difficult to believe that [Livingston] did not know about the problem.

As executive director, Livingston oversees the actions of all TDCJ officers, guards, employees and contractors, and is responsible for their training, supervision, and conduct. He has ultimate responsibility within TDCJ for overseeing the day-to-day operation of state prison facilities, and is responsible for ensuring that people incarcerated in TDCJ facilities are protected from sexual assault and other violence.

Demoya Gordon, Lambda Legal Staff and Transgender Rights Project Attorney, said:

Actions, and inaction, have consequences. TDCJ’s willful decision to leave Passion Star unprotected resulted in horrific sexual abuse and violence, and we are grateful the court will allow us to prove this deliberate inaction started at the top. TDCJ, under Livingston’s leadership, needs to be held accountable. This small victory is one of many we hope to have as our end prison rape campaign progresses.

In the seven male facilities where she has been housed, Star has been raped, slashed with a knife, forced to submit to undesired sexual acts to escape violence, and/or threatened with sexual assault. Before being placed in safekeeping, Star filed dozens of grievances and complaints, but instead of taking measures to protect her, TDCJ officials told her to “suck dick,” “fight” or to stop “acting gay” if she did not want to be assaulted.

Lambda Legal will continue its efforts to end prison rape and sexual assault around the country.

Read the press release.